Tuesday, 31 July 2007

An undead berry is a Lichee?

In many MMOs eating food is a downtime activity used to restore a character's lost health, and drinking restores mana for magic users. There are many curiosities with the nature of these mechanics, so let's extend our culinary cognisance and see what the Inferno has to offer on the subject.

But first I just need to grab a quick snack.

The first thing to note about food in MMOs is the sheer amount and variety of food that heroes carry around with them. It's astonishing. Imagine yourself on a family outing to a park somewhere and you're taking a picnic, maybe you've got a nice hamper and you've filled it with all sorts of goodies; you get to the park, and hauling the hamper out between three of you you nearly cripple yourselves under the monstrous weight of the thing, you lug the hamper the twenty yards it takes to find the right number and variation of trees to create a scene from a Jane Austen novel, and then you all collapse from exhaustion and try to find the strength to open the lid of the hamper and lift out the roast turkey with all the trimmings, the barbecue, the fondue, the umbrellas for when it inevitably rains, the backup fondue, the small diesel generator to power the microwave... Ok, so maybe that's just my picnics, but anyway, there's a lot of food, and it's heavy and a pain in the buttocks to move around. Now imagine that you're doing that whilst carrying a ten foot sword or staff, whilst wearing armour or flowing mystical robes. Now fight a horde of twenty orcs.

Let's just say that the gateaux is going to be slightly 'pancaked' (and don't even ask what the pancakes look like) and the martinis are going to be very much on the shaken side of things.

Nevertheless, in MMOs it is an absolute certainty that even in the deepest, dankest dungeon, adventuring groups across the land will be pausing next to a pile of fresh corpses exuding cerebrospinal fluids, rat nests full of disease ridden rodents and pits of strange and unnameable slimes in order to whip out a raclette and accompanying condiments, and having elevenses whilst trying to avoid getting cave mould in their Clos du Mesnil.

In skiing they have après-ski, and in adventuring you have après-abattage.

I think the NPCs are missing a trick here. Just set-up a restaurant at a suitable depth in any dungeon and wait for the adventuring clientele to come flocking in:

“Hello? Is that Lou Liches? Yes we have a table booked for a party of five under the name of Thrognar the Red. Seven thirty? Yes, that’s us. I’m just phoning to let you know that there’ll only be four of us now, I hope that’s not a problem, it’s just that one of our party has been unavoidably detained by a pit trap full of vipers. Oh wonderful, I’m glad it won’t be a problem. We should be there on time, but we do have to defeat Mordon the Undying Betrayer of Gotland just before we get to you, so we might be a few minutes late, but I imagine we'll be in need of some serious food by then. Tell me, do you have anywhere that a magic user can cast his wand about after drinking, if you know what I mean?”

Now don't get me wrong, adventurers have to eat, but many of the items of food that they carry are these absurdly wonderful gourmet items that wouldn't last five seconds being stacked next to daggers, rope, items of armour and whatever else is in an adventurer's backpack. Take the humble pie for example: it's probably one of the more robust items on the menu of heroic foodstuffs, but one whole pie is usually good enough to restore a depleted health bar once only, and a health bar is generally depleted after every other fight at least. So heroes carry around something like one hundred and seventy five pies in order to keep themselves going, and do you know how many calories that is? I mean, I know adventurers are an active lot, but seriously, never mind being able to find their way back out of a dungeon, it's a miracle that they can fit back out.

Who ate all the pies? Now we know.

This pie-eating madness could almost be forgiven, except that every fantasy MMO has these stick-thin females, with non-existent armour that protects them from the strike of a two-handed battle axe, and there they are between fights scoffing pies and steaks and the like. I can see the Female MMO Fitness Workout DVD coming out soon: basically girls, just eat whatever the hell you like and as much as you like. Essentially, eat like a pig if you want, just make sure you kill forty or more orcs a day and you'll fit into the tiniest outfit imaginable, and as an added bonus your breast size will triple!

Considering the sheer variety and culinary diversity that exists in MMOs these days and seeing as adventuring folk spend so much of their time masticating, why not making eating into a mini-game? Yeah, you could make it such that combining foods into 'courses' will enable bigger and better buffs as well as healing and replenishing mana. If you have a small soup starter and manage to follow it up with the lamb shanks and roasted vegetables, you’re allowed to try for the power combo finishing desert item! But only if you ate all of your brussels sprouts and you used the correct spoon for the soup. Otherwise the buff fails, and you go straight to bed without getting to fight Bregnip the Merciless.

Buffs from food is a wonderful tacked-on after thought isn't it? I mean, how does an adventurer eat a wolf testicle pie and suddenly gain mightily in strength for half an hour? Do wolves have magical testicles that imbue arcane energies into a person? Wouldn't that be the worst evolutionary design ever. Every wolf would be biting off his own 'bits' in order to make him stronger than his rivals and then when the strongest of them all has finally become leader of the pack he can't breed. Maybe they would develop an Amazon wolf society, where the females were in charge. Makes sense, in a 'none of this last paragraph made much sense' sort of way. Anyhow, eating a pork pie and suddenly being able to bench press an elephant, or eating cheese and suddenly being more intelligent but only for thirty minutes! is totally bizarre. And what if you melt cheese on a pork pie and eat that, does that count? What happens then? Are you suddenly able to bench press an elephant with your brain? Can your pectoral muscles calculate pi to four hundred places? Food would become dangerous, you wouldn't know whether to put mustard on your pie in case it combined in some weird way that gave your nipples the power to whistle dixie every time you're struck in combat. For thirty minutes only.

Buffs from food don't last that long, and one can imagine this is because the food item has perhaps passed on its way through the adventurer's body. Yeah, we're talking toilets now. Why are no dungeons equipped with toilet facilities? I mean, I know these places are run by evilly evil overlords from the evil dimension, but no toilets? That's just a whole new level of evil, man. Not once in an excursion do you get a hero going "You know what, I've been down in this dungeon for four hours straight, I've seen sights that would make mere mortals crap themselves inside out, and I haven't had a chance to relieve myself in all that time". And thank goodness, can you imagine with the amount of food that gets eaten and the number of drinks that are quaffed, what would happen if nature was allowed to take it's natural course? An outside observer would watch a bunch of hardened folk, grimly venture in to the entrance of an ancient ruin, only to be washed out again four minutes later on a tidal wave of excrement; hidden entrances to the place would suddenly become clear as geysers of faecal matter erupted from them twenty feet into the air.

So along with all their other skills, such as melee mastery and fireball flinging, adventurers come ready trained with the ability to 'hold it in'. At least until they get to Lou Liches.

All-in-all it's a wonder that MMO adventurers don't just drag a cow along down with them on their dungeon delving deeds, they could all grab a bite from it in between fights without the need to crack open the picnic hamper. Don't worry though, the cow has a health bar, so all they have to do is feed it something and it'll be fine to carry on...

Thought for the day.

If drinking restores mana for a magic using character, surely it follows that urinating uses up mana.

Casting spells also uses up mana; so is urinating a form of conjuring?

Gives a whole new meaning to a wizard waving his wand about...

Thursday, 12 July 2007

The MMOhhhhh

At this point on our journey we'll stop to take a brief look at the undercurrent of sexual tension in the MMO space by exposing the hidden meaning to several common MMO terms thus revealing their sordid alternatives.

Those who are of an easily offended nature may want to avoid delving this deep into the Inferno.

MMOhhhhh terms:

Meat Shield: Underwear.

Grind: What lovers do after they've removed their meat shields.

Two-boxing: See ménage à trois.

Ding: The result of a successful grind. Generally happens more quickly when two-boxing.

Spawn: The (sometimes unexpected) appearance of a new being when people have been grinding for a while.

Gold Farmer: Grinding where the sun don't shine.

Buff: It is considered good form to give your partner a decent buff before you start grinding.

Solo: Buffing yourself because there's nobody to grind with.

Bot: A device to allow females to solo more easily.

Bind on Equip: When improvised bots go wrong.

Instance: The female sexual organ.

Twink: The male sexual organ when it's ready for grinding.

Nerf: The male sexual organ after grinding and a ding.

Instance run: The female sexual organ after grinding and a ding.

Rez: When a male is ready to grind again.

Gimped: Those people who like to grind whilst wearing full-body leather meatshields.

Lag: When one person fails to ding during a good grinding session.

Wipe: Something that is bound to occur if there's been a lot of grinding and several dings.

DPS: Someone who's a little too enthusiastic with their grinding technique.

Con: If it cons red, you've been grinding too much.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Combinatorial, my dear Watson.

Priest: "There's the Ogre lord, attack in the name of the king! And his foxy daughter!"

Warrior: "Raaaaarghhh!"

Ogre Lord: "Puny fleshpods, me smish you!"

Warrior: <Holds up a finger> "Oh, hang on a second, I'm not sure if this is the right weapon to be fighting ogres with."

Priest: "What?!"

Ogre Lord: "Guards! Hit oomans wit yer hurt makers!"

Warrior: <Rummages through backpack and pulls out an abacus> "No, that's not the right one, that's for orcs." <Rummages some more, littering the floor with abacuses> "Ah ha, here's the ogre one! Right, I just need to calculate my DPS average and then we can perform a reverse linear interpolation based on his percentage health to determine overall hit points!"

Priest: <Surrounded by four angry ogre guards> "Mother."

Warrior: <Takes a swing at the ogre lord> "A hit. A most palpable hit! How are you feeling now? Would you say that you're feeling ninety five percent healthy? Or perhaps it's more like ninety two percent?"

Ogre Lord: "Ow, yoo make my not-left-arm bleed! Raaaagghh!"

Warrior: "Hmmm, right arm is bleeding and he's pretty steaming angry, we'll call that eighty nine percent." <flicks some beads on the abacus> "Good news, I think we can defeat him in another ten rounds of combat!"

Ogre Lord: "Yoo never stop me, I are in der vincey ball!"

Priest: <Dodges another ogre guard attack> "Just kill him already!"

Warrior: "Your crown will be mine in a mere ten hits, and then the king's daughter will be rewarding us tonight in ways that are illegal in four other virtual worlds!"

Ogre Lord: "Actually old chap, I fear you've made a slight miscalculation. You see, I'm actually a mountain ogre, whereas you've been using the spreadsheet, sorry abacus, for standard ogres. We're an entirely different phylum, and quite unique in our general power and ability".

Warrior: "Really?"

Priest: "For the love of all stereotypically, misogynistically portrayed horny king's daughters, stab him and then help me!"

Ogre Lord: "Indubitably my dear boy. Look, here's the correct abacus, just take a quick gander".

Warrior: <whistles in admiration> "Impressive! Says here that you guys can hit for anywhere between one hundred and two hundred hit points!"

Ogre Lord: "Most certainly, but you're using that abacus with the armour bead over to the left which indicates a plate wearer such as your good self. If you move that bead over to the right..."

Warrior: <Flicks a few beads and calculates> "Good grief, it says that even a standard mountain ogre guard can hit a cloth wearer for anywhere up to one thousand hit points in a single shot!"

<Ogre guard hits Priest for nine hundred and ninety nine hit points of damage. Priest dies>

Ogre Lord: "You'll also see that in the notes section there's a calculation which shows that an ogre lord generally has a retinue of two ogre guards."

Warrior: <Looks up from his abacus to see four angry ogre guards surrounding him> "Waiiiit, that's not two guards!"

Ogre Lord: "My dear fellow, it is a fallacy to rely on the exactitude of numbers."

Warrior: "..."

Ogre Lord: "Bash im in der noggin boyz!"

Numbers, numbers, numbers. Can we do without all the numbers? Would it be possible to remove the numbers from the fore of MMORPGs, and would it make for a better game?

In current MMORPGs, everything seems to come down to spreadsheet crunching: this weapon is better because it does 0.2 DPS more in an offhand which has a swing timer that is 1.5 times that of the main hand; this spec is better because it allows an extra 20 mana regen per second whilst achieving a mana efficiency rating of 35% return on investment over a period of ten years at an amortisation schedule of three monthly intervals (terms and conditions apply).

In combat you already have the con system. You have the enemy's health bar. Why do you need to see how much damage you're doing to the exact hit point? Sure, have flashy effects in the game for critical hits and the like, because these are exciting things that should feel powerful and meaningful, but don't show every little numerical detail of how the combat is resolved.

If you break it down to the raw numbers, show the roots that feed the trunk of your game, you remove a large chance for immersion, magic and mystery.

There are a many examples of games where you aren't presented with the raw numbers, yet the games are fun and involving. I was playing Resident Evil 4 on the Nintendo Wii again the other day, and you don't even have enemy health bars in that game. You know what? It actually adds to the tension and enjoyment of combat: have I put enough shots into that guy to take him down? Is he going to get back up? Should I waste some ammo making sure? Do you think he'd mind if I took his jacket? At a basic level of abstraction, if you need to show that the ogre lord is really rather tough you can reflect it in the health bar, make the size of the bars relative such that a warrior facing off against an ogre that has twice as many hit points will see that the ogre's health bar is twice as big as his, he'll get an idea of how much effort it will take to defeat the enemy but it won't be an exact science involving slide rules and logarithmic charts.

The developers will still have the numbers in order to balance things and, you know, be able to create a working computer game, but abstracting these things away from the players seems like a way to make the game more than just Logistical Spreadsheet Combat Simulator IV. A sword which gives +Str and +Stam, could instead simply 'con' green to a warrior, and red to a mage. You could further adapt the 'con' of an item based on what the character currently has equipped. If the sword mentioned earlier gave less benefit to a warrior over his currently equipped sword, it would con orange or red to him, indicating that it wasn't an upgrade. Would the lack of focus on stats ruin it? Is it about making the power of an item tangible, evident to others so that you can show it off or work out exactly how many Pico seconds less it will take to kill a given mob? Could the fact that it's the most powerful weapon you've discovered on your adventures so far be enough?

Numbers allow people to min/max which is a form of enjoyment to some, but they also allow people to discriminate against those who don't min/max. Removing the numbers could be used as an attempt to remove a level of elitism from these games, when such elitism is so unwarranted.

Pen and paper games use dice rolls to simulate whether lady luck is smiling on the character, and stats are used to represent a characters abilities, because that is the way that seems to work best when you have to perform combat calculations yourself. But now we have these computers, and they can do all these complicated calculations of hit rolls and bonuses and skill point adjustments for us, so we should be able to sit back and enjoy a good game; except that the tradition of PnP was brought over wholesale, without perhaps considering the nature of the medium that they're being brought to, and thus computer based RPGs are heavily reliant on presenting the player with numbers when they could be put to better use in obfuscating the numbers and presenting us with a game that does all the hard work of calculating if another +1 to Charisma is really going to make the pot-belly dwarf barbarian succeed in seducing The Countess Snootington.

For the curious the answer is no, the seduction still failed. It might have been something to do with the fact that he was twiddling his nipple piercing whilst attempting the seduction. Hey, it works in the local tavern, how was I to know that it was considered bad form at the royal court?

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Thought for the day.

"Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar's gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart throughout the world. There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the stock exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul." -- Carl Jung

"Or he could spend five minutes in an MMO." -- Melmoth